SAO PAULO – Unions and social movements are urging Brazilians to take to the streets for Friday’s nationwide general strike, which is being held to protest the president’s austerity program and efforts to overhaul the nation’s labor law and pension system.
The general strike will be the first since 1996, when a massive grassroots protest was held against then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s administration to protest high unemployment and low salaries and call for agrarian reform and broader social welfare coverage.
The current president, Michel Temer, has angered many Brazilians by signing into law a spending cap that limits public spending to inflation for the next 20 years, an austerity package that comes even amid a deep recession and with a record 13.5 million people currently unemployed.
Unions are also protesting a proposed labor-law overhaul that was passed by the lower house on Wednesday night and would usher in lower labor costs for businesses and lend legal legitimacy to contracts reached by companies and workers via collective bargaining, even if they contradict some aspects of the labor code providing strict workers’ rights protections.
The legislation, which also would end compulsory union dues, still must be approved by the Senate.
Temer says that it is necessary to modernize outdated labor legislation that dates back to 1943 and that it will adjust the labor market to the current reality and prepare the country for the demands of the future.
Last month, Brazil’s Congress approved a controversial bill that allows companies to outsource any job.
The labor-law vote is seen as a test case for a vote on a pension overhaul, a legislative package that also is opposed by unions but strongly backed by the business sector and Temer’s administration, which says it would substantially reduce government spending.
Because a pension overhaul requires amending the constitution, it would require the vote of a three-fifths majority in both the lower house and the Senate.
But unions slammed what they say is a stripping away of workers’ rights.
“The protest is necessary to show the government the strength of the working class, which does not accept its rights being taken away,” the president of Força Sindical trade union, Paulo Pereira da Silva, said in a statement.
Organizers of the strike say they are planning to block roads and highways in several Brazilian states.